Spanish 'dark horses' now look like thoroughbreds

POTCHEFSTROOM - Spain shook off the tag of perennial also-rans to storm to victory at Euro 2008 and they have gone from strength to strength since then to put themselves on the verge of a first World Cup triumph.

Despite a runners-up finish to France at Euro 1984 and a gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, the Iberian nation was haunted by what became known as the "curse of the quarters" - at Euros 1996 and 2000 and in the World Cups of 1994 and 2002 the last eight had proved a bitter stumbling block.

Spanish fans feared the worst at Euro 2008 when world champions Italy battled to a 0-0 draw to force a quarter-final penalty shootout, but that was when their luck changed and Iker Casillas's saves sent them through.

Released from their jinx, self-belief swept Spain past Russia and Germany to the title and they won plaudits for their slick possession football and attacking flair.

The European Championship was only their second major international title, coming 44 years after they beat the Soviet Union 2-1 in the final of the same competition in 1964.


Coach Luis Aragones stepped down after Euro 2008 but his replacement Vicente del Bosque has kept the core of the team intact, making only minor adjustments to a well organised and confident side who won all 10 matches in qualifying.

The only blip in their otherwise perfect run to the finals was a surprise 2-0 defeat to the United States in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup in June 2009.

That upset ended a 35-match unbeaten run and Del Bosque used it as a reminder to his players of the dangers of over-confidence.

After a shock 1-0 defeat to Switzerland in their opening Group H match in South Africa, Spain have looked good for their place in the final, outplaying Portugal, squeezing past a defensive-minded Paraguay and comfortably seeing off a German side that netted four goals against both England and Argentina in their previous two matches.

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